Tag Archives: Chorus

Alanya Holder is ‘Wrapping up Spring.’

Be My Guest: an occasional series featuring guest posts and contributions. This week, a look back over the musical events of the Spring term, the second article from second-year Law student and recently-elected President of the Music Society, Alanya Holder.

Wrapping Up Spring.

“Sometimes I forget I’m doing a Law Degree…”

When I first sat down and thought of everything musical that has happened over the last term I realised that if I talked about every single one in detail, this blog post would never end. So instead here is a whirlwind tour of the Spring term with the Music Society… 

University Chorus and Orchestra
University Chorus and Orchestra in Canterbury Cathedral: Photo: Robert Berry

January began with everyone complaining how much they had eaten over Christmas and how none of us at Chorus could make sense of the Szymanowski Stabat Mater. With the Cathedral Concert only a couple of months away, nerves set in immediately and adrenaline kept us all going until the day. However I must admit that by the day we had come to love the Szymanowski in a strange kind of way and I definitely loved the Poulenc Gloria. A fellow musician, Chris Gray has written a fantastic blog post all about the Cathedral concert day – one of the longest days of my life, but a fantastic one.

So a few weeks into term, not much going on – I know, let’s have a SOCIAL! The Music Society had a ‘blues’ themed social at the Orange Street Club. It was blues night at the club, and the Society all came dressed in blue – or as a Blues Brother in one case (good effort Andrew Bailey!) And as we all danced the night away, I was contemplating my first concert of the term – the Concert Band and Big Band annual concert in the Gulbenkian Theatre.

University Big Band
Good Times Roll! The University Big Band

The band concert is well known for being a night of fun and fantastic music, this year featuring the singing sensation Crystal Cowban! However while the concert all looks fantastic and sounds even better, few know of the hours and hours of preparation that go into it! In the weeks running up to the concert it’s a mad rush making sure that there are enough copies of all the music and trying to tie people down to saying if they are definitely performing so that a seating plan can be made! On the day instruments pile into a van and make their way to the theatre, chairs are stolen from seminar rooms because there just aren’t enough and generally everyone rushes around like a headless chicken until we sit down to rehearse in the afternoon. Similar goings-on after the concert make the day long and hard but definitely worth it – even if my clarinet playing skills are not something to shout about. [Not true! – Ed.].

Altogether now: Sing!

Something new for me this year was singing in ‘Sing!’ a student run choir that performed in the Gulbenkian Cafe as a warm-up act for the concert. We sang such greats as Lean on Me and a Disney Medley. More to come from ‘Sing!’ at ArtsFest and next year.

At the end of February (yes I’m only up to February!) I took the plunge and volunteered to sing at Dan Harding’s ‘Jazz at 5’ – a brilliant innovation which got me listening to some different kinds of music and gave me the opportunity to sing solo, something I haven’t done for over a year. I sang two songs by Fairground Attraction and Why don’t you do right by Peggy Lee. I’ve loved watching all my friends take part in Jazz at 5 and couldn’t have asked for a better experience in life when I got up there and did it for myself.

Two days after this was the Chamber Choir Crypt Concert. This was my first year in the Chamber Choir and it has been tonnes of fun! Amy Clarke has been a fantastic conductor this year and the Cathedral Crypt just made the evening so special. That evening truly was one of those nights that gives you a shiver down your spine as you’re doing something you love, with people you love in a place that you can’t help but love! Can’t wait for next year…

And finally to my last concert of the term – the Littlebourne Concert. This was a great opportunity for the Chamber Choir to have another chance to sing our repertoire in another location and for a good cause. We were also joined by the Cecilian Choir who sang Vivaldi’s Gloria. This was fantastic, a piece that is a personal favourite of mine.

And so the term comes to a close…I’ve sung, I’ve played, I’ve watched and I’ve organised. This term has been hectic and stressful but also wonderful. I’ve made some really good friends and been given new and amazing opportunities. I will never forget my time with the Music Society at Kent University – it has been my life this last term! I don’t think my parents will forget it either, as they have been at every single concert I’ve been involved in – dedication and a half!

Sometimes I forget I’m doing a Law Degree…

Was It Good For You: Hannah Widmann.

Continuing the series profiling musical alumni of the University of Kent. This week, Hannah Widmann.


 When were you at Kent ? 

Hannah Widmann
Still ahead: Hannah Widmann


What subject did you study ?   

BSc Psychology  

What occupation are you now engaged in ?  

I am still studying, and have changed fields only slightly. At the moment I’m busy doing research for my MSc thesis in London, my MSc is in Cognitive Science and Psycholinguistics at the University of Amsterdam.  

If music is not your profession, do you participate in any musical experiences now ?  

I am still an avid choral singer, and will sing in whatever group that will let me. Luckily, I found a nice chamber choir in Utrecht, not far from my new Dutch home, and have been singing with them for the past 1.5 years. Also, I find most of my friends this way, so gatherings have a tendency to go musical after a drink or two!  

How were you involved in music whilst at Kent ?  

I was a member of Chorus and Chamber Choir in all three years, and was lucky to receive a Music Lesson Scholarship for singing lessons. I, also sang in several smaller groups (Ladies’ Barbershop, madrigal groups), went to every single Music Society social, and was generally one of those people that you see involved at every concert (not always musically… but I can shake a bucket nicely!). I was also Secretary to the Music Society in 2007-08. I had a brilliant time!

What did you gain from your University music experience, and has this helped you in any way since leaving Kent ?  

Apart from making what I believe to be great music, I had the best time socially. I met most of my Kent friends through the Music Society, and am still in touch with lots of them. I lived with several “music geeks” in my final year, and sharing this hobby that filled most of our social calendars made it such a fun house to live in! I still use music and singing to kick-start my social life in a new place, and one of my first actions in Holland was to look for a decent chamber choir- it had been so central to my life at Kent! And yes, it worked. Choral people are just so likeminded.  

What was your most memorable musical experience at Kent ?  

Oh, there were so many special moments, it’s very hard to pick just one. Musically, my final year in Chamber Choir and the (if I might say so myself) excellent performance at that year’s Crypt Concert spring to mind. The choir really gelled, and the knowledge that we’d go to Paris with this programme made us all work extra hard. It really was a fantastic night.  

A very corny moment, but surely another one of the highpoints of my time at Kent were the carol services in the Cathedral.  The candlelit procession through the Nave, while singing “Once in Royal David’s city” was always a very touching experience.  

What would you say to current musical students at the University ?  

Make the best of your time at university, and just enjoy the ride.  


If you’re a musical alumnus and would like to be featured, get in touch via the Music Department website: we’d love to hear from you!

Was It Good For You: Sylvia Hinds.

A series profiling musical alumni of the University of Kent. This week, Sylvia Hinds.   

Sylvia Hinds
On song: Sylvia Hinds


When were you at Kent ?     


What subject did you study ?    

English and American Literature, BA Hons    

What occupation are you now engaged in ?    

I work for the University of Kent – in the Admissions Office    

If music is not your profession, do you participate in any musical experiences now ?    

I still sing in Canterbury – both for the University, and in a couple of local chamber choirs.    

How were you involved in music whilst at Kent ?    

I was a member of the Music Society. I sang in the Chamber Choir, and the University Chorus, and I took part in the 2003 Summer Opera.    

What did you gain from your University music experience, and has this helped you in any way since leaving Kent ?    

I transferred to Kent in my second year, and found meeting people quite hard as everyone already knew each other, and my friends were limited to those I met on my course. Once I joined the Music Society, I made a whole new group of friends. Musicians are generally sociable people, and joining the Society helped me find a place at university away from my classes. It also made me want to spend more time at university – I felt part of life on campus, which I hadn’t felt up to then. I went to the library between classes and rehearsals, so it probably helped my grades too.    

What was your most memorable musical experience at Kent ?    

Singing in the Summer Opera was fun, as was performing with the Chamber Choir.    

What would you say to current musical students at the University ?    

Join the Music Society! Joining a choir or orchestra on campus is a great way to let off steam, make friends, and make great music. Getting involved with the Music Committee looks great on your CV, and the social events are always fun, if a little crazy. Making music once you graduate isn’t always so easy, so cheap, or so much fun, so take advantage now. I also met my fiancée in the Chamber Choir, and we’re getting married in October, so if you’re single, the ‘Sue Wanless Dating Service’ is still going strong…


If you’re a musical alumnus and would like to be featured, get in touch via the Music Department website: we’d love to hear from you!

Was It Good For You: Tom Millinchip.

A series profiling musical alumni of the University of Kent. This week, Tom Millinchip.


When were you at Kent?
I was at Kent from 2004-2008.

Tom Millinchip
Society Man: Tom Millinchip

What subject did you study ?
I studied French.

What occupation are you now engaged in ?
Currently working for Majestic Wine in Chester but going to Christchurch to do a PGCE in September.

If music is not your profession, do you participate in any musical experiences now ?
Where possible I try and keep up with my singing and am part of a local chorus and Church choir.

How were you involved in music whilst at Kent ?
I was a member of the Chamber Choir, Chorus, Concert Band and Big Band and was Secretary of the Music Society in my second year.

What did you gain from your University music experience, and has this helped you in any way since leaving Kent ?
Having come from a musical family, music is in my blood but I didn’t expect to be heavily involved with anything when I first started at Kent.  This however changed as soon as I realised how welcoming and rich music-making at the University was.  My experiences and friends made through performing and socialising were/are invaluable and will be with me for the rest of my life.  Music is an exciting hobby and is a perfect way of getting to know knew people and learn new skills.  In terms of helping since I’ve left, I now have the confidence to join new groups and choirs where possible and working as part of the Committee in the Music Society has helped with my administration and leadership skills.

What was your most memorable musical experience at Kent ?
There have been so many, ranging from being involved in the first ever ArtsFest to performing in such a prestigious venue as Canterbury Cathedral.  The main highlight for me however was helping to organise and then going on the Chamber Choir tour to Paris in my final year.  Not only was the choir that year top notch (if I say so myself) but we were lucky enough to sing in La Madeleine and an English Church near the Champs-Elysées.  The experiences and company were unforgettable.

What would you say to current musical students at the University ?
I would say to them that they should just get stuck in no matter what instrument or what level of ability.  Being involved in such a large society and department will provide unrivalled experience and enjoyment and everyone should make the most of the opportunities that they are presented with.


If you’re a musical alumnus and would like to be featured, get in touch via the Music Department website: we’d love to hear from you!

A Day In The Life: Chris Gray

An occasional series featuring guest posts and contributions. 


This post comes from Music Scholar and first-year  Architecture student, Chris Gray. Chris plays tuba in the University Symphony Orchestra and Concert Band, and sings bass with the Chamber Choir and the Cecilian Choir.  Chris has previously been Principal Tuba with the Wessex Youth Orchestra for three years, and lives in Poole in Dorset.  He recently played in the University’s Colyer-Fergusson Concert in Canterbury Cathedral. 

Chris Gray
Top brass: Chris Gray.


Bleurgh. 9am. Is all this really worth it? 

Saturday 13th March. Eliot College music store room. Day of the Cathedral Concert. 

I guess this was it, the start of a long day, culminating, hopefully, in a wondrous concert. That last sentence is tinged with doubt, not because I have no faith in my fellow musicians, but because on the day of a big concert like this, doubts do start creeping up into your mind about your own musical ability, and being a tuba player, you have good reason to!  Hitting the top A in the Strauss, playing the octave jumps in the Poulenc…. 

I started off the day doing what I am useful for, moving heavy percussion. We successfully threaded the timpani through a tightly-packed store room and through the bowels of Eliot College. I took great delight in marching with the bass drum, banging it loudly informing the residents of Eliot College of my impending heroics lifting timpani into the idling van outside…. more like trying to wake everyone up to let them share the beautiful crisp spring morning with me and the other musicians up at this torrid hour. 

A very nervous journey in the percussion van from campus to the Cathedral ensued with glances back at the precious cargo every time we heard a bang or crash. We arrived in the Cathedral Precincts and proceeded to unload the van, carrying the percussion down a small make-shift corridor, through the South door and into the Nave. 

The Cathedral was already a hive of activity with vergers, members of the chorus and various students and staff from the University milling around tending to their jobs. Once we had located and set up the timps, we started on the chairs for the orchestra under the expert guidance of Sophie and Dan Wheeler. I had heard that fitting the orchestra in between the towering columns of the Nave was a difficult job with no room for error. 

We started with the timpani, then the woodwind making sure that the principals of the woodwind section were directly in front of the podium….. one of Sophie’s pet hates. Then the brass in two rows so the lower brass could deafen the trumpets who in turn could inflict ear-splitting terror on the violas. The strings worked out nicely and with the podium for the conductor and soloists in the correct place, in accordance with Health & Safety providing a 1.4m gap around all obstacles, it was done. I stepped back…. plenty of room, don’t know what the fuss was about!! 

Then I saw where I would be sitting….. 

Words cannot describe the predicament I would be in. Stuck behind a pillar, wedged between a desk of the double basses and the timpani, I dreaded the moment when ‘the listener is catapulted headlong into a torrid allegro’…. (Sue’s programme notes). I thought I would never get the downbeat in the right place…. What if I came in a bar early….? 

Then the long and arduous process of seating the chorus took place. To liken it to a familiar occurrence would be like watching the start of the London Marathon, yet the athletes were tethered down and then when they did break free of their reigns, they would be running on treacle… 

Rehearsals started dead-on 11.15am…. yeah right, on days like this you can bet your house that they don’t, it’s something about a large group of chattering people in a confined space that seems to make you lose track of time. 

Rehearsals began with the Szymanowski, so time for coffee for the lower brass players or in my case a lovely white Malteser milkshake! One thing I noticed whilst watching the rehearsals, was the length of acoustic in the cathedral. 3 seconds! How we would pull of the Strauss or the delicacy of the Poulenc was beyond me, but somehow in this setting, the pieces seemed to fit and gel with the architecture of the building. Good choice of programme, I’d say! 

Then came my moment of glory, my incredibly important part in the Poulenc, all 33 bars of it! I do like the piece, I just find it hard to look past the part I’m playing and listen to the overall work, listening to it, here, now, in the comfort of my own room you can appreciate the ‘juxtaposing of thematic cells’… (Sue’s programme notes again). 

Poulenc done. 15 minutes for lunch…. yes I know, that is how committed we musicians are! 

Onto the Strauss which does have a very nice tuba part. I enjoyed playing this, although the droves of Cathedral visitors milling around during rehearsal not only annoyed Sue but most of the orchestra as well. Nothing like the musical setting of the transfiguration of a dying artist to the backdrop of chattering schoolchildren. Strauss almost done, but no, we need to rehearse the last 6 bars over and over to try and kill the brass… Then onto the Ravel (sorry not much to say about this, I went outside). 

2.15 came, relaxed for the rest of the day. DJ – check. Time to go!!! 

7.30 concert time. Well not for me, I watched from the sideline as Ravel and Szymanowski didn’t want me in their music. It was interesting to watch people prepare for the concert the inexperienced paced… the experienced laughed and joked about the inexperienced. First half finished after amazing performances from orchestra, choir and soloists. 

Then came the second half and it was time to play some Strauss. I kept fiddling with my bowtie, asking people if it looked right or not, but in the end it didn’t matter because I was sat behind a pillar! The Strauss went well, and it was amazing to be part of such a large orchestra, now, after weeks of rehearsals, playing as such a coherent group of musicians as one huge music making machine churning out bar after bar of absolute perfection. Sorry, got carried away in the music there… it happens. Then the Poulenc, the wonderful individuality of this underrated French composer coupled with the skills of Sue bringing chorus, orchestra and soloist into a blazing finale. Blazing finale meaning fading away into nothing! 

The audience loved it, the Cathedral had been filled with vocalists and instrumentalists alike, and we did ourselves proud. On the drive back to campus from the Cathedral, I asked myself the same question that I asked myself that morning, some 13.5 hours ago… 

Was it worth it? 

Oh yes.. most definitely.

Was It Good For You: Gerard Collett

Gerard Collett
Hitting the right notes: Gerard Collett. Photo: Aubrey Kurlansky.

Beginning a new series profiling musical alumni of the University of Kent. This week, we feature Gerard Collett, who recently returned as a soloist in the annual Colyer-Fergusson Cathedral Concert earlier this month. 


When were you at Kent ? 

I studied at Kent from 2001 to 2004.   

What subject did you study ? 

I took a combined degree in Philosophy and History and Theory of Art.   

What occupation are you now engaged in ? 

I am an opera singer.   

How were you involved in music whilst at Kent ?  

I conducted the University Chamber Choir, and sang in the University Chorus, and also sang in the Summer Opera Projects.   

What did you gain from your University music experience, and has this helped you in any way since leaving Kent ?  

The value of working as part of a company, whether it was the Chamber Choir or Chorus, or as part of the Music Society in general, and the shared sense of satisfaction of a job well done are lessons I gained from my time at the university.  There is no better or more beneficial contrast for a student who must sit in front of a computer or in the library writing essays, than to make music with other students and lecturers, usually from different disciplines.  Music is a great leveller – we are all created equally, and so can be equally creative.  I strongly believe that.  It can also be great fun!   

What was your most memorable musical experience at Kent ? 

 I couldn’t pick one, but my most memorable and happy musical experiences were rehearsing for the opera productions.  I think there is something special about the Kentish Summer, there was a real end-of-year-joy in our summer productions.  A close second would be a well deserved beer in Simple Simons’ – (now ‘The Parrot’)… which is a musical experience of sorts…   

What would you say to current musical students at the University? 

 To current musical students I would definitely say, 


If you’re an alumni and would like to be featured, get in touch via the Music Department website: we’d love to hear from you!


As this blog gets underway, it seems useful to begin by reflecting on what it is about collective music-making that is so crucial both to members of the University community, as well as to the human experience in general.

The larger musical activities that occur on campus here – Chorus, Orchestra, Concert Band and Big Band – are events at which people from different aspects of the university’s community can participate on an equal footing: an English professor sits next to a first-year undergraduate reading Maths; a member of the IT department rehearses with a final-year Drama student; or a departmental administrator sings alongside a postgraduate student reading Law. The opportunity to rub shoulders with, and participate alongside, others from the same community is a great leveller, and also widens one’s social circle. The sense of a collective discipline – attending regularly, rehearsing, performing – shared by so many, whatever their occupation or background, and often one that is outside of one’s profession, gives communal music-making its great appeal.

The University Concert Band, conducted by Ian Swatman

For a short time, whether in rehearsals at the end of the day, or during a performance in Canterbury Cathedral, everyone achieves the same goal as a result of sharing the same rehearsal and performance experience that led up to it. What you do during the day makes no difference: you are in the same boat as all the other performers around you, striving to create a musical event  that will move both yourselves and the audience, working as part of a larger team. For those working in an office or at a quiet table in the library the rest of the day, these moments offer a chance to get away from the solitary and join in with a communal activity – often creating a lot of noise!

University Chorus and Orchestra
University Chorus and Orchestra in Canterbury Cathedral: Photo: Robert Berry

Apart from solo practice and recitals, music is inherently a social activity: it demands that people work together, share the same experience, support one another: perhaps most importantly, that they make mistakes together in an environment where mistakes are expected and assistance is offered in rectifying them (at least, in early rehearsals!). Few other undertakings offer so supportive an environment in which to work. And events such as WorldFest are a celebration of this, of the collective community coming together to celebrate its unity in working and performing.

I sat in the midst of the Chorus on Sunday’s rehearsal, bolstering the tenors (who this term really don’t need any support – how often can one say that about a tenor section ?!) – and was immersed in the sound-world of Poulenc’s Gloria and Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater; along with everyone else: counting bars’ rests like mad, frantically pitching the note for the next tenor entry from a fleeting clarinet solo or cello line, not being able to see the conductor, singing the wrong text: it was hard work, and terrific fun. I can say that now after a period of twelve or so hours from the tranquillity of the office: it didn’t feel quite like that at the time!

So, take a moment reflect on your own ensemble music-making experiences: what does making music mean to you ?